GovernmentThe Northern Westchester Examiner

Resident Outcry Forces Croton to Delay Abolishing Justice Court

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Residents of Croton-on-Hudson came out in force last week to implore the Board of Trustees not to proceed with a plan to consolidate the village’s justice court services with the Town of Cortlandt as a potential cost savings measure.

The heavily criticized proposal was first presented to the Board of Trustees on Jan. 4 from Village Manager Bryan Healy as the village grapples with an estimated $1.6 million budget shortfall.

However, residents and town employees that packed the meeting room in the Croton Municipal Building Feb. 28 overwhelmingly maintained the village court, which handles approximately 2,000 cases annually, was not the place to try and save a few bucks.

“The court is not a business. It is a service. It is not a department store,” said Amy Kim, a 15-year village resident who has worked for the court for about five months. “Our community deserves more respect and diligence than two months (to decide the future of the justice court).”

“We’re here as a rush job. It reeks of Hollywood accounting,” said Casey Raskob, the village’s prosecutor, who noted the court represented less than two percent of Croton’s operating budget. “The court is not to be measured by making money. Don’t just railroad this through.”

Healy said the justice court was a $363,270 expense for the village during the current fiscal year. Revenue from the court plunged from $350,000 in 2021 to $170,000 this year, in large part, according to Healy, from less parking fines at the Croton-Harmon Train Station, which is still only at about 50% capacity from the COVID-19 pandemic.

If Cortlandt were to take over the court responsibilities, Supervisor Dr. Richard Becker said the town would likely hire the village’s court clerks and prosecutor. Healy said Croton would still receive the revenue generated from parking tickets and other Village Code violations.

“Eliminating the court is a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” Croton Village Justice Sam Watkins argued. “The integrity of this village must be maintained.”

“The village court is a significant part of the fabric that makes Croton a desirable place to live,” added Lewis Montana, an attorney and 43-year village resident.

Healy presented data showing that between November 2021 and January 2022, only 22% of the 338 individuals who appeared in village court were Croton residents.

Following the closing of the public hearing, trustees Sherry Horowitz and Alejandro Rosales said they opposed making a change to the village’s government structure.

“It’s shortsighted,” Horowitz remarked. “You (public) made a tremendous argument in keeping the justice court. I think there is magic here.”

Mayor Brian Pugh said the Board of Trustees would defer any decision on the future of the justice court until after Healy submits his proposed budget this spring, but cautioned about the financial hurdles facing the village.

“You’ve given us a lot to think about, but at the end of the day there is an important economic consideration to think about,” Pugh said. “To find savings in this budget will be intensely challenging.”

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